In this message we shall begin to consider 20:13-38. In this portion of Acts Paul goes to Miletus and meets there with the elders of the church in Ephesus.
Verse 16 says, “For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying that if possible he might be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.” Probably Paul wanted to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in order to meet many people from different countries who came to Jerusalem on this day (cf. 2:1, 5).
From Miletus Paul “sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church” (v. 17). When they came to him, he said, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you all the time, serving the Lord as a slave with all humility and tears and trials which came upon me by the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and to teach you publicly and from house to house” (vv. 18-20). In verse 20 Paul says that he did not shrink from declaring to the saints in Ephesus anything that was profitable, and in verse 27 he says that he did not shrink from declaring to them all the counsel of God. These verses refer to Paul’s three years of teaching in Ephesus and indicate the extent of his teaching.
According to verse 20, Paul taught the saints in Ephesus both publicly and from house to house. This indicates that at Paul’s time there were home meetings. Not only did Paul teach publicly in a larger meeting place; he also taught from house to house. This indicates that the churches had small meetings in the homes as well as large meetings in a public place.
In 20:21 Paul continues, “Solemnly testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance unto God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” Once again, the word “testifying” is used. Testifying requires experiences of seeing, participating, and enjoying. It is different from mere teaching. Paul’s use of this word here indicates that he himself had experienced repentance unto God and faith in the Lord Jesus. Therefore, he could testify concerning what he had experienced. He did not merely preach and teach; he testified of what he had passed through in his experience of repentance and faith.
In verse 22 Paul goes on to say, “And now, behold, I am going bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing what I will meet with there.” We have seen that Paul originally intended to go to Jerusalem through Syria from Achaia in Greece (19:21; 1 Cor. 16:3-7). Due to the Jews’ plot against him, he changed his route northward to Macedonia, and from there he returned to Jerusalem. Paul was aware of and suffering from the plots of the Jews (v. 19). This was possibly the cause of his being bound in spirit to go to Jerusalem. The spirit in verse 22 refers to Paul’s regenerated spirit, in which he served God. In his spirit, a spirit joined to the Lord the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), Paul sensed beforehand that something would happen to him in Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit testified this to him (v. 23).
Paul knew that trouble was waiting for him. He realized this in his spirit. The Jews throughout the area around the Mediterranean Sea were plotting to seize him. Not only those in Jerusalem but also those in Asia and in Macedonia and Achaia were determined to apprehend him. It may have been that they all were working together and had a joint plot. Eventually, in his last visit to Jerusalem, Paul was caught by some Jews who had come to Jerusalem from Asia Minor.
Aware of the plot of the Jews, Paul, in a very real sense, had nowhere to go. If he went to Asia Minor, the Jews were there. If he went to Macedonia and Achaia, the Jews were there. If he went back to Judea, the Jews were there all the more. How, then, could he not be bound? Where was he to go? We need to understand Paul’s situation.
It was not by doing something wrong that Paul stirred up the opposition of the Jews. Rather, their opposition was stirred up by his being faithful to God’s New Testament economy; it was provoked by his obedience to the heavenly vision. Simply because Paul was faithful to the vision he had received from the Lord concerning God’s New Testament economy, there was opposition to him wherever he went.
Neither James nor Peter faced the kind of opposition Paul did. James was compromising, and Peter was somewhat weak. Actually, since Peter’s ministry began before Paul’s, he should have stirred up the opposition of the Jews. However, that was not the case with Peter. No doubt, Peter suffered. But his suffering came from the outsiders, whereas Paul’s suffering came from insiders as well as outsiders.
If we read carefully Galatians 2, we shall see that even James and Peter were both a cause of suffering to Paul. In writing the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul was frank. He told them that he had even rebuked Peter to his face. Peter would not have needed that rebuke if he had been faithful. If Peter had been faithful, he would have shared a great deal of Paul’s sufferings.
In saying this about Peter I am not belittling him. It was very difficult to stand against the heavy Judaic atmosphere in Jerusalem. As we shall see, when Paul went to Jerusalem for the last time, even he was subdued by the atmosphere there. Although he had written the books of Galatians and Romans, he still agreed to take part with those who had made a vow and agreed to go to the temple to be purified.
The atmosphere in Jerusalem was so heavy and strong that no one could withstand it. Both Peter and James were defeated by it. Peter was defeated by not doing anything about the situation, and James was defeated by compromising with the situation. As we shall see, in Acts 21 James said strongly to Paul that in Jerusalem there were many thousands among the Jews who believed and who were all zealous for the law (21:20). This indicates that those believers were strongly under the Judaic influence, mixing God’s New Testament economy with the Old Testament dispensation. If we consider this matter, we shall realize that Paul was in a very difficult situation.
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